Why Should I be Concerned About my Cortisol Levels?

Why Should I be Concerned About my Cortisol Levels?

Cortisol is involved in the regulation or modulation of blood glucose, glucose metabolism, immune system, heart and blood pressure, central nervous system, and anti-inflammatory responses, and at normal levels is very beneficial to the body. It is referred to as the stress hormone because it is produced in response to stress. And here lies the issue. Given how high levels of stress are normal in today's fast-paced world, cortisol levels have gone from protective to destructive. Cortisol is vital to physiologically managing stress but elevated levels can be very harmful to your system and problematic for your daily function.

Consistently elevated cortisol levels may be at the heart of many illnesses!

Cortisol levels in the body fluctuate in a 24 hour cycle. For most people. levels are lowest in the early morning around 3-4am and are highest at around 7-8am. Cortisol production jumps in the adrenal glands when you face a stressful situation, but for proper health, it must return to normal levels after the event. The stark problem we face in our lives is that for many people, stress is continuous or unresolved and the body never gets a chance to normalize cortisol (resulting in adrenal resistance.)

The consequence is unfortunate. Too much or too little cortisol leads to a number of related problems. Gerontologists actually call cortisol the "death hormone" because it is involved in processes that cause aging. High levels of cortisol has been shown to impact immune function, do damage to neurons, cause inflammation and atherosclerosis, and is often associated with serious illnesses like cancer (likely due to immune suppression.) Consistently high cortisol levels causes adrenal gland exhaustion, which raises prolactin, making you more sensitive to pain, especially in the brain where it commonly leads to headaches.

Here are some root problems linked to elevated cortisol:

  • Metabolic dysfunction;
  • Thyroid dysfunction;
  • Cognitive dysfunction;
  • Immune dysfunction:
  • Serotonin imbalance:
  • Elevated blood pressure, lipid serum levels and blood glucose levels;
  • Inability to recover from injury or exercise;
  • Reduced cellular energy production and chronic fatigue;
  • Weight gain;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Rapid aging.

We are only just beginning to talk about the epidemic of chronic cortisol elevation, but it is possible that many illnesses are actually rooted in this problem. For instance, by depressing the immune system, cortisol can actually switch off the natural repair process of the body so we become vulnerable to pathogens, bacteria and the like.

High cortisol affects your weight too, often leading to weight gain in spite of good diet and exercise. It is also linked to diabetes, raising insulin levels, lowering blood sugar, and causing sugar cravings. Possibly the worst impact is on sexual function because as cortisol rises, sex hormones drop and so goes the libido. And finally it causes a reduction in serotonin levels making you feel depressed and listless.

So what can we do to lower cortisol levels in the body?

First and foremost is exercise. While exercise is obviously good for your system, cortisol levels begin to peak after 45 minutes or so. This means that cardiovascular routines should be limited to 30-40 minutes to ensure proper control. Also do not overdo weight training as this also causes high levels of cortisol production. It seems that the best methods of exercise are walking/jogging, pilates, yoga, and any such lower impact methods.

Believe it or not, video games can be useful. They can elevate heart rate and lower cortisol levels without the stress placed on the body by aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Anything that lowers stress, like meditation, music, etc, is excellent for controlling cortisol. A good massage can directly reduce cortisol while also boosting serotonin and dopamine production, and dry sauna's are excellent for flushing both cortisol and toxins.

Sleep is also crucial to controlling cortisol and refreshing the adrenals. Work towards 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep between 10pm and 6am. Sleep in absolute darkness (artificial light makes the body produce more cortisol) and silence and avoid any light stimuli close to bedtime.

Finally, adding certain nutrients to your diet is very beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to lower cortisol levels, so if your diet is low in oily fish, nuts, avocado, olives, grains or seeds, make some changes or at least take a good fish oil supplement. The Food Research Institute in the Netherlands reported that alpha-lactalbumin reduced cortisol levels, so yoghurt and kefir are excellent additions to your regimen. Low glycemic carbohydrates, especially those high in soluble fiber, are good for lowering cortisol levels and also for raising serotonin and dopamine levels. Get lots of fruits and vegetables into your diet every day, and consider a high bio-availability, high quality vegetable supplement. While we are on the issue of glycemic indexes, stay away from all sugars, refined carbs and alcohol.

When considering a supplemental solution, look for rhodiola, glucommanan, ginseng, magnolia, l-tyrosine, l-theanine, maca, theobromine, and DMAE. Not to blow our own trumpet, but we make a supplement that can be very effective at quickly lowering cortisol levels containing a complex of cortisol-busting nutrients. Our own clinical tests show it may help normalize cortisol levels within 30 minutes.

Last but definitely not least, drink more water! Just a small amount of dehydration can elevate cortisol, so make sure you getting at least half your body weight in fluid ounces every day.

So the word is out, pay attention to your cortisol levels and ensure that the stress hormone is not stressing you out.

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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